After high school, Stiles goes to college in Boston and leaves everything behind that he can.
Lydia leaves, too, but doesn’t tell anyone where she’s gone. Stiles fell out of love with her somewhere along the way, but the day she leaves he remembers why he loved her in the first place, because she was always meant for more than the rest of them and he’s happy to see her stop pretending otherwise. But Scott stays, Derek stays, Jackson stays, Allison stays, everyone else just stays, because there’s a reason for them to—pack, purpose, comfort, love—but Stiles leaves and tries to find a new place instead that could make him feel that same need to stay.
His first winter break, a three-week long vacation from school, he decides to travel. It’s both the best and worst thing he’s ever done, because he falls in love with it and realizes that now there’s no place that will ever mean enough to him to stay anymore.
He uses the scholarship money that was supposed to be spent on books for the semester but ended up sitting in a bank account, untouched for months (because, hey, he’s an expert on research, and there are plenty of ways to get the things he needs cheaper or totally free online, anyway) on a ticket to Berlin. He takes pictures, keeps his receipts and ticket stubs, sends his dad a postcard, and loses his virginity behind the back of a bar with a German boy whose eyes look almost supernaturally blue in the dim, alley light. The next day, he takes a train heading west and doesn’t know which stop he’ll get off at.
It’s hard being away from his dad, but he doesn’t want to go back to Beacon Hills, and it gets easier the longer he stays far from home. They talk on the phone every week, when he’s not overseas and the roaming charges would cost a fortune, and Stiles’ dad always thanks him for the post cards. He’s never expressed any approval of Stiles flying and traveling around the world alone for weeks to months at a time, but Stiles knows it’s just because he’s concerned and feeling lonely at home.
“Your mom used to say she’d like to see Italy,” his dad offers one day over the phone, halfway through Stiles’ second semester as a sophomore.
So far, Stiles has traveled through the entire UK, Germany, France, Spain and Switzerland. The next ticket he buys, for his spring break coming up, is to Italy.
Stiles isn’t sure exactly how or why, but sometime during junior year in high school, he had realized he’d outgrown Scott. He was never a great friend to begin with, but he was what Stiles needed, but not anymore. Plus, Scott had started spending way too much of his time nearly getting Stiles killed since the bite, and there’s only so many times a guy can stare death in the face before his eighteenth birthday before he starts needing some space. They’re still friends, and Stiles emails him often during his trips, even though Scott usually only talks about Allison in his replies. But the occasional odd one that mentions Derek make Stiles’ face burn before slamming his laptop closed without reading the rest of the message, walking out into the night of whatever country he’s found himself in and finding warmth in someone with stubble that leaves bright red burns against his skin.
Stiles travels to Hong Kong during one of his breaks as a junior. He’s picking out a post card for his dad when he sees one with the painting of a wolf on the front, its eyes a crisp, frosty blue. He buys it without thinking and sends it to Derek, writing teasingly on the back, Lemme know if you have any Chinese cousins you want to look up. -S
He’s already back in the States a couple weeks later when he sees an email in his inbox from an address he doesn’t know.
Very funny -D
His vision blurs as he stares at the short message, and he thinks it isn’t very funny at all. It takes him almost a month to build up the nerve to reply, and when he tries to think of something to say, nothing seems to say the right thing. After spending three hours staring at an empty message that could’ve been better spent working on one of his many papers or presentations (he’s wound up majoring in English literature for whatever reason, and it means he’s writing ten-page papers every other day, it seems), he eventually comes up with something quick and meaningless.
Finally got the Internet in that husk of a house of yours? Never thought I’d see the day. I can link you to some great porn sites if you’re in need. -S
The next day, when he gets back to his apartment after his classes, he sees a response already waiting at the top of his inbox. He stares at it without opening it for a few minutes, gets up and makes some food, sits back down in front of his computer to stare some more while he eats, eventually falls asleep at his desk, then wakes up around midnight to see a second message has joined the first. He hesitantly opens the earlier message, and snorts as he reads the short note.
You’re an idiot.
The second one he expects to be much like the first, familiar in that constantly-irritated tone Derek always has when dealing with Stiles, but it’s different. Instead, it’s something he never expected to hear from Derek at all.
The house isn’t a husk anymore, you know. Scott and Jackson helped rebuild it. You’re welcome to visit and see it, if you ever make it back to Beacon Hills. You’ll always be pack. -D
Stiles doesn’t send Derek a reply, or any more emails after that.
Derek doesn’t send any more messages, either, and when Stiles flies to Russia at the beginning of his summer vacation and sees a book in a used bookstore with a wolf illustrated on the front and a title he can’t read, he wants to rip it to pieces. The wolf stares at him with red, hungry eyes and he leaves the store, feeling a stirring warmth in the pit of his belly that he’s been trying to get rid of for the last five years, only to walk right back in and buy it anyway, mentally scolding himself the entire walk back to the hostel.
By the time Stiles’ graduation arrives, the wall of his bedroom above his bed has become coated with pictures, train ticket stubs, flyers in languages he still can’t read, small city maps worn from use, and other various things he’s collected over his numerous trips around the world. There’s a ripped-off book cover in one of the drawers of his desk, too, but he doesn’t stick it on the wall.
His dad’s flying out the day after next and staying through the weekend for the ceremony. It’ll be the first time Stiles will see his dad in four years, but he can’t help but dread it.
Stiles spends the entire day doing nothing but walking around town, now that his finals are over and all of his papers are turned in, trying to prepare himself for facing one of the biggest reminders of what he had back in Beacon Hills. But even after thinking about what he left behind all day long, he is in no way prepared to find Derek sitting against his door in the hallway of his apartment building, staring menacingly at the fire extinguisher on the opposite wall.
“Uh,” is all Stiles says, and Derek stands without looking at him.
Before Stiles can ask how Derek found him, Derek pulls out a folded piece of paper from his jacket pocket—it’s the same one as always, Stiles notes immediately, although it looks more worn and beaten up now than it did last time he saw it. Stiles mentally curses himself for how badly he wants to know where all the new rips and scratches came from when he’s been trying to tell himself he wants to forget all about Derek ever since he left Beacon Hills in the first place.
Derek tosses the piece of paper at him and Stiles catches it with one hand, folding it open with his fingers and seeing his address written in his father’s handwriting. He wonders about the story behind that, and why his dad never mentioned it on the phone during their numerous calls the last two weeks, but decides that’s something to talk about later. Derek steps out of the way and Stiles unlocks his door, stepping in with Derek following close behind him.
For whatever reason, Stiles heads straight for his bedroom instead of the kitchen like he usually does—something about the shock of finding Derek outside his apartment has made him lose his appetite. Derek doesn’t hesitate in following him right in and Stiles doesn’t stop him. Stiles watches Derek look around the room before his eyes fall on the collage of tickets and maps and pictures covering the wall.
He’s quiet for a very long time, and then he asks, “What were you looking for?”
Stiles feels like he might have a panic attack any moment. He tries to remember how to breathe—in, out, in, out—and whispers, “I don’t know.”
Derek turns to him and looks at him with something Stiles has never seen on his face before. It looks a little like sympathy and a lot like regret.
“Did you find it?”
Stiles shakes his head, still trying to drag air into his lungs, and Derek steps forward, wrapping warm arms around him and holding him close, waiting until Stiles can breathe again.
They don’t kiss or fuck or anything, but Derek slowly undresses them both and pulls Stiles into bed, his skin so hot to the touch that Stiles sweats under the blankets, but he doesn’t kick them off or try to put any space between them to cool off. Derek buries his nose in Stiles’ hair, dragging surprisingly gentle fingers across Stiles’ skin. Stiles’ hands are loose where they touch Derek, afraid that holding on and squeezing too tight will make him disappear.
Stiles thinks of all the things coating his bedroom wall, evidence of his global search for something he didn’t realize he was looking for, and sighs.
“I don’t know if I can go back,” he says, because it’s true, and then more words are tumbling out of him faster than he can think them through, “I’m not— I can’t be a wolf like you and the others, I don’t want that, so I don’t think I can ever go back, at least not for very long. But I want to— well no, wait, I don’t really want to, that’s a lie. I like it better in Boston, I like it better everywhere else, but. Like, I’m sick of running around looking for a replacement for you when you’re right there, in the same place you’ll always be, and I know I can’t just ask you to get up and come with me because that’s not fair, either, and the pack and everyone else needs you, but I just— I want—”
“Stiles,” Derek interrupts, “Shut. Up.”
There are still so many thoughts running around in his head that Stiles almost doesn’t hear him, but he quiets down and eventually falls asleep, face tucked into Derek’s shoulder. He wakes up in the middle of the night and Derek is still awake where he’s laying beside him, because he’s a freak like that, and Stiles decides to just tell him he loves him, because it’s obvious and they both know it even though he doesn’t understand it very well himself. There’s a whole scary, new future waiting for him after his graduation, and he doesn’t know where it’ll take him. He never does, really, but this time, he at least wants to face it by being honest.
Derek just grunts and still doesn’t kiss him then, but he does the morning after, and Stiles knows he’s found what he’s been looking for.